Neighbors protest tree removal on Sands Boulevard
About six years ago, Chuck Liptak spent tens and thousands of dollars of his own money to make the medians on Sands Boulevard as beautiful as they are today.
The neighbors, upon seeing his devotion, were motivated to spruce up their properties, with many planting palm trees in the right-of-way.
Those trees could become history if the city council goes through with its plan to build sidewalks on the boulevard, to be paid for through a grant from the Department of Transportation.
Residents along that stretch of road are outraged that the city has informed them they must relocate or remove these 70 trees from 34 improved properties at their own expense to make way for the sidewalks.
And though the city is looking at alternatives that could save the trees, just the thought of removing them is unacceptable for some.
Liptak, who has been on oxygen with limited capacity in just one lung, said he doesn’t want sympathy. He wants neighbors who planted trees to join the fight.
“This is being done for the citizens, not me. People have invested money in the median and on their own property,” Liptak said. “When I did the medians, lots and homes started to sell, neighbors started to plant palm trees.”
Sherri Sprinkle, Liptak’s daughter, said her father invested much time to make the area so beautiful. Too much just tear it up.
“Why can’t they just go work on the other streets that are going to be done anyway? There are some that don’t have beautiful landscaping. You can put sidewalks in and not remove anything,” Liptak said.
The problem with that is the grant is for that specific project and the city doesn’t want to potentially lose the $750,000.
“We have funding. If we don’t put that sidewalk in, we lose the funding. It’s location specific,” city Councilmember Rick Williams said. “It was applied for at the residents’ request.”
Councilmember Jim Burch said the city should look at doing other projects if the grant funder will allow it, and also look to save the trees, if possible. He said this is a very unique circumstance.
“Once in a while, you can think outside the box without setting precedent. This is one of them, but you have to be measured and have common sense behind your decision,” Burch said.
Another problem is that people are allowed to plant trees in the right-of-way at their own risk. If something like a sidewalk needs to go in, the trees may have to go.
“If all fails, that’s on the burden of the person who put them in. There’s no justification for spending tax dollars to remove them,” Burch said.
Staff is trying to come up with alternatives. The city is considering fronting the money to homeowners to have the trees removed, to be paid back over time. They may also build the sidewalk around the trees or even straight behind the trees, but that could mean giving up some property.
It could also mean a huge problem for property owners.
“That encumbers the property and makes them liable. If someone gets hurt on the sidewalk, you’re liable because you signed off with the city for anything happening on your property,” Burch said.
Those who want to keep the trees believe if there are so many problems with it, don’t put in the sidewalk. And they’re ready to fight it.
“I’ve had people come up to me and tell me what a disaster this is. I fought the city for years over this. They just don’t care,” Liptak said. “It’s absurd, and I’m going to fight this to the end.”